His persona belies his fame in the field of Hindustani classical music. So unlike most music maestros, Ulhaas Kashalkar is strikingly stark and simple allowing his voice and vidwat to do the speaking for him.

In just three mesmerising raags — he chose to present Behag, Kafi (equivalent to Carnatic Karaharapriya) and the Bhairavi — the maestro undertook brief alaap that surveyed the raag contours and actually elaborated (vistaar) the raag as he rendered the bandish.

With a voice whose tenor and reach were palpable, it was surprising that he opted for a support singer in Ratikrishna, another deceptively simple person with a mellifluous tone.

The Behag, a challenging raag which is generally handled by expert veterans, began acquiring embellishments in the vocalist’s rendition as it emerged like a processional deity decked in the finest wear. Dhan, dhan rey…aarey mora laad, the Behag was expanded within a single lyrical line (akin to the sangathis of Carnatic music) by shifting the stress so as to convey a new meaning with every twist and also convey with utter clarity the melody of the teevr Madhyam, a quintessential feature of this raag which also has the shudh madhyam. The subtle manifestation of the Rishabh and Daivath note in the arohi were evident as if to show that their existence is vital. He deconstructed the raag swar-by-swar only to reconstitute it with supreme command over the materials. Finally, all the petals were put together and the bloom called Behag stood in all its grandeur.

The delineations were testimonials to his varied handling of the raag, especially his use of the swarakshar which lent finesse to the rendition. The linking of the swar taan to the first akshar of the lyric was superb. The akaar taan traced the raga in its myriad hues once again with fine oscillations in tone, for the line Prabhu laalan mey where we could witness the tremendous staying power of his voice. He twisted and turned the emotive element of the lines reaching to a crescendo after which he shifted gear to the tarana, steering the syllabic utterances with the ease of a deft navigator.

Young Ratikrishna lending his voice in support could hold a candle to the maestro in terms of tone and grip over the medium. The tarana was awesome rendition leaving the audience asking for more.

Very few artistes of calibre attempt Kafi but here was one who carried it lightly on his shoulders, rather voice! Again, a brief alaap tracing the raag and he launched into kaise bizlee chamak chamak rahi hai…, an infectious lyric which caught on to the audience who were humming in hushed tones. The entire tone was geared in a manner as if the musician was addressing the inanimate ‘bizlee’ (lightning) in the skies. Garaz, garaz baadal barasane lagi…— these meaningful lines pictured a monsoon laden nature in front of our eyes through the power of his rendition. The panditji’s music was a treat to tune into. The presentation was wrapped up as usual with a lilting bandish in Bhairavi dekho kanhaiyya… where the tail end was most aesthetic. Suresh Talwarkar on the tabla complemented the maestro as did Gaurav Chatterjee on harmonium.

The vocal was part of Srjan’s Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival hosted at Rabindra Mandap.